To claim we are living through a new Cold War is both an understatement and a category mistake. The 20th-century face-off between the Communist East and the Capitalist West was, ideology aside, about two superpowers trying to contain each other. The global conflict of today is far less static.
What we are witnessing instead is a new Great Game, a collision of great powers that are trying to roll back one another’s spheres of influence. Unlike the Great Game of the 19th century between the British and the Russian Empire that culminated in the fight for dominance over Afghanistan, today’s Great Game is global, more complex and much more dangerous.
Call it the Game of Threes. It involves three prime players, Russia, China and the West, which are competing in three ways: geographically, intellectually and economically. And there are three places where the different claims to power clash: Syria, Ukraine and the Pacific. Many of the defining conflicts of our time can be defined through some combination of those three sets.
To differing degrees, governments and citizens from Cairo to Copenhagen have grown skeptical about whether liberal democracy and postwar internationalism have been, or will be, the right choice for them. To all those doubters, China and Russia stand ready as alternative models and protective powers, offering new arrangements for bilateral and multilateral alignments. You don’t want to follow international law, European integration or anti-corruption schemes? Follow us!